"Hey, honey, you have a hummingbird at your feeder!" my husband, Dave, exclaimed. My first reaction was,"Wow, a late ruby throat," so I immediately changed the fluid and more or less forgot about our "Sweetest Day" hummer.
Weekends are usually busy, so I didn't encounter the bird again until early Sunday morning as I was taking my flowers from under the patio to the deck. Fall had been some- what mild this year, so I still had a lot of pots filled with colorful flowers that I managed to save from the cooler temperatures at night.
Satisfied that they were getting the right amount of sun, I began walking back to the patio when a whirr of wings buzzed by my head to the feeder. I looked closely as the hummer greedily drank before it realized my presence and flew off "You are different," I thought and made a mental note to call a local naturalist the following day if my visitor was still flying about.
"I'll I be there within the hour," Gary Gerrone (Lorain County Metro Parks Naturalist) said with tempered excitement, I could tell he was slightly skeptical as I described my visitor to him, but all of the photos in my field guides strongly indicated that I had a hummer from western North America, a Rufous Hummingbird.
Thus began the flurry of activity as "Sweetie" became the center of scrutiny for a handful of noted birders and enthusiasts who identified, confirmed and documented my slightly way off course adult female rufous hummer.
She has been a joy and a worry all wrapped into a resilient bundle of energy. Every morning I would sit down with a cup of coffee and camera poised, waiting for her to come to her feeder. Her routines varied, but she usually got a good drink and then proceeded to the flowers.
On cold and dreary days she would sit near the ground amongst the barren plant vegetation and zip up for the occasional unwary insect and then fly to the feeder. When the sun shone brightly and the air was warmer, she generally caught bugs, perused her favorite blooms and scoped out her territory, only visiting the feeder sporadically. Her last sip for the evening was about a half hour before dusk and I'm really not sure what time she had breakfast, but I usually saw her between seven and eight a.m.
She would chirp impatiently at me if I was too slow putting out her flowers in the morning and would sometimes buzz by my head to let me know she was about. After all, she was the star and it was my duty to cater to her every whim.
Every evening I would scan several daily and extended weather forecasts to foresee her survival during a Northeast fall/winter. I purchased another Perky Pet four flower glass feeder so I could easily exchange them when the temperatures dropped into the thirties, constantly keeping one at room temperature.
I also placed a small "fly-by" tube feeder in the yard in case she was startled by my outside activities. During especially frigid nights, I kept a heat lamp pointed at her feeder so her food would not freeze. I also faithfully hauled the flowerpots in and out of the patio or the garage to keep her natural nectar supply as plentiful as possible and a small bowl of really ripe tomatoes kept the fruit flies plentiful.
Who would have thought I'd still be making sugar water, pro onging blooms and greenhousing into mid-November?
As I write this, she is still here, patiently waiting for her favorite plants (Mexican bush sage, pineapple sage, and various salvias) that should have succumbed long ago to be placed on the deck for her dining pleasure.
She is spoiled beyond a doubt and happy to stay until her little bird clock says it is time to fly-hopefully before the weather becomes brutal. Until she makes up her mind, I will diligently continue to provide the necessary nourishment she requires to get her in shape for the next segment of her migration, which I am told should be the Gulf Coast.
I can only hope on that fateful day, when I no longer see her flitting about, that she has taken flight and is successful.
I truly feel that I have been blessed with the presence of this special creature and I know that I will definitely keep my feeders up well into October every fall especially since there have been numerous rufous sightings throughout Ohio this year alone (2003). I'd also like to thank everyone who provided me with helpful information, flowers and shared wonderment of this tiny whirlwind.
Who knows, she may visit again next fall or she'll give a favorable "wings up" recommendation to fellow rufous hummers on the five-star accommodations she was fortunate enough to find in a backyard in Northeastern, Ohio.
The following is a summary of some factors that may have been essential in
attracting my wayward rufuous hummer. The primary and most important ingredient was I had left one feeder out through mid-October with fresh fluid in it. I have to stress that hummingbird feeders should be cleaned and changed regularly based on the climate you live in- Your chances of attracting and keeping your avian customer may depend on the quality of their dining experience, so keep the food fresh.
Plant a variety of flowers in pots so they can be moved at will to prolong their blooms. Also, plant flowers that generally bloom near the end of the season, especially those that may catch a passing hurnmers fancy. My little girl really loved sages/salvias and sometimes ate from them exclusively.
These flowers were significant contributors in attracting my rufous hummer: Mexican bush sage, pineapple sage (salvia elegans), lady-in-red or coral nymph (salvia cocci nea), Victoria (salvia farinacea), lantana, impatiens, jewel-weed, gartermeister fuchsia, cleome, canna, begonia, petunia, butterfly bush, honeysuckle and trumpet vine, phlox, flowering quince, fall clematis and mimosa tree.
Some type of nearby moving water source is also important, i.e. pond, fountain, lake or river, I have all of these in or near my back-yard. Water is a key ingredient for flying insects and protein is a big part of the hummer diet. Trees, bushes and some type of natural vegetation also play an important role in their survival, especially at night.
The rest is purely chance, since these little darlings are sporadic pioneers or simply victims of changing weather patterns that may disrupt their on-star capabilities. Whatever the reason, these vagrant tiny dynamos are fun to observe and take care of.
This is one experience I'll never forget for the rest of my birding life and I would repeat it in a wing-beat.
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